Saturday, May 25, 2024

Incredible Ipswich Town headed to Premier League after securing back-to-back promotions under Kieran McKenna

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Despite competing against three teams only a season removed from the Premier League, Kieran McKenna’s Ipswich Town have secured back-to-back promotions, earning a second-placed finish in the Championship behind Leicester City via a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town. By doing so, the Tractor Boys have become only the fourth side to earn promotions from League One to the Championship and then the Premier League, following Southampton in 2012, Norwich City in 2011, and Watford in 2009. 

While there have been plenty of stories of teams that have progressed steadily up the divisions, the rapid rate at which Ipswich have done it is unprecedented, collecting more than 180 points across the past few seasons. McKenna was only appointed in December of 2021 and since then the team has done nothing but win, only losing eight of 52 matches in charge. Now, Portman Road will see Premier League soccer for the first time since 2002. 

Relegated despite making it to the second round of the UEFA Cup, that season would be the start of a dark period for the Tractor Boys. Ipswich would then suffer 11 seasons of middling around the Championship before eventually dropping down to League One in 2019 following a 24th-placed finish in the Championship. Even in League One, the club seemed stagnant until McKenna took the reigns and helped lead them to a club-record 98 points and a spot back in the Championship. Now, he has done one better in guiding them to the Premier League. 

By underlying metrics, Ipswich are the third to fourth best team in the Championship with the fourth best expected goal difference of 25.7 entering the final weekend, but scoring the most goals in the league has helped prevent the inconsistency that has plagued teams around them. 

This is without spending much cash either as Ipswich have secured budget signings which McKenna’s 4-2-3-1 has gotten the best out of every player at his disposal. Taking team effort to a new level, 19 players have found the back of the net with eight of them scoring more than four goals. Six players have also registered more than 10 goal contributions.

Tactically, Ipswich take care of what they do without the ball to stop the transition from their opponents and can quickly turn defense into attack as well. With a fluid front four of Conor Chaplin, George Hirst, Nathan Broadhead, and Wes Burns, players can come at you from any direction to create dangerous attacks. 

Hirst in particular shows how effective McKenna’s tactics are. He had not scored a Championship goal before coming to Ipswich and now has seven with six assists as well in limited action a total which makes his loan move from Leicester City into a permanent one.

Making smart purchases, even injuries haven’t slowed the roll of the Tractor Boys. When Hirst picked up an injury on Boxing Day, it was the type of thing that could’ve derailed the season but Ipswich went and added Kieffer Moore on loan from Bournemouth and the Welshman has gone on to score seven goals, assisting one more while being just the impactful midseason signing that the doctor ordered.

Thanks to more than 130 million dollars of investment by the United States-based private equity firm Bright Path Sports Partners, Ipswich may not only need to rely on budget signings in the Premier League but it’s important that their good decision-making continues. The current CEO, Mark Ashton, will continue the day-to-day running of the club which bodes well for bringing the success from the Championship to the Premier League with them.

Their fans will already be backing the team as big games at Portman Road are quite an event. In 31 home European matches, Ipswich has never lost and are the only British side to have never lost a home match in European competition. While the last of those matches came in 2002 prior to their relegation, if Ipswich can keep McKenna in the Premier League, all of their home clashes will be must-see affairs. Watching a fun team that scores and pushes the pace at will is something that lifts fans and plenty of players who have been involved in this run from League One, like Conor Chaplin, who will still be a key member of the squad next season. 

Due to their transfer strategy, there will be a few on-loan players who will need to be replaced next season and some like Jeremy Sarmiento may be allowed to go on loan again to see if they can cope with the step up to Premier League soccer. The key is keeping McKenna though. During a summer where jobs like Manchester United could open, Ipswich will be focusing on keeping one of the hottest names in management at Portman Road.

With McKenna, this is a club that could have a very high ceiling but if they also need to replace him while adjusting to Premier League life, that’s when a swift return to the Championship could be on the horizon. But for today, that’s not something to worry about as for the first time in 22 years, Ipswich Town are a Premier League side again.

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